Today is my 40th birthday. I have been dying my hair for about 15 years now thanks to early graying, I use wrinkle cream, and my body makes creaky cracking sounds if I stand up too quickly. But I don’t feel grown up at all.
I keep waiting for that magic moment—that “aha!” epiphany—when I will feel as though the stars have aligned and I will be the adult I am meant to be. I keep waiting, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.
When I graduated college, I figured it was normal to still feel like a kid. First job, first apartment, first car I bought on my own, these were all fine and good stepping stones into adulthood, yet I somehow felt more like I was playing a part than gaining in actual maturity. And when I married my husband, I remember again thinking that this would be it. I would now be that adult I saw on television and in the movies. We would have adult discussions over adult meals on our coordinating adult dinnerware. But there was no seismic emotional shift detected.
I can distinctly remember how adult my parents really were when I was a child. By the time they were my age, they had bought their forever home, started college funds for all of us, and done away with all of the childish things of their childless life. They didn’t listen to pop music, their clothing was mature, and they watched the news with great interest. They purposefully read all of the sections of the newspaper, not just the Lifestyle one. My mother volunteered at church. My father referred to his 30-something year-old co-workers as “those kids at the office.” They weren’t searching for purpose. They didn’t despair for meaning or wonder how to be more fulfilled. They were too busy providing for their family and community to worry themselves with such self-indulgences. Inadvertently, they made themselves too busy to impart their wisdom to us.
I suppose the birth of my first child was the first glimmer of a grown-up moment for me. I had wanted it to be more of a smack-in-the-face occasion, but a tiny flicker had to suffice. Being responsible for another human being is, after all, an incredible burden, and there were moments when I was able to see through my sleep-deprived haze that I was no longer a child—having given birth to one. Then again, I knew people who had children in high school and college, and they certainly weren’t grown-ups either. After I got the hang of the whole parent-of-a-baby gig, I was just a lady with a baby who still kept up with the gossip magazines. That worked for me in the moment, particularly since I was the first of my friends to have a child. I was 30 years old, but the number had precious little effect on my being a functioning adult.
Then when my oldest entered preschool, I surveyed the room suspiciously at one of many parents’ meetings and wondered what the hell I was doing with all of these people. They owned homes, they drove minivans, and they had retirement funds. They made wreaths for their doors and always sent thank-you cards. They were the kind of parents my parents had been. And there I was, Doc Martens boots, nose ring, lack of Erin Condren life planner, just hoping to skate under the radar, unnoticed by this group of people whose collective parenting IQ was negatively affected by my inclusion. I wanted to be these people, but I just didn’t know exactly how to be that which seemed so natural to them.
In the years since, I have progressed somewhat. I started writing down important meetings in a notebook, I sometimes wear fancier shoes, and I have even learned to love changing out the wreath on the front door of the townhouse we bought five years ago. Thanks to having four children now, I also drive a minivan around town, the nicest vehicle I’ve ever owned. I’ve forced myself to lean in to some of the grown-up behaviors I have learned from observing the actual grown-ups who surround me, but truth be told, I still forget that I am an adult and have been for quite some time. I am so adult, I’m old enough to be the parent of an adult. Maybe one of them can teach me how to adult?
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